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How to Teach Dogs to Like Kids

Teach your dog fun, friendly ways to interact with kids on the street.

By
Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #56

It warms the cockles of your heart to see those squinty eyes, that soft, smiley mouth, and that gently wiggling butt. Since even the friendliest dog can scare kids with a too-bouncy approach, Mr. Friendly will also need some manners. Check out my article on how to teach polite greetings. Many children are both hugely interested in dogs and a little shy of them. You can help by teaching your friendly dog to sit quietly for petting.

I always enjoy amusing the short stuff with tricks. When the kids on my block were in grade school, they all went ape for high fives. Teach your dog to bump your closed fist with his nose and give it the cue “Punch yourself in the nose.” This is almost as hilarious as saying “heinie.” Spins and bows are also popular. Hey, a simple sit can make your dog popular, if he’ll sit when a child asks him to. 

Teach Kids How to Give Dog Treats Safely

You might also carry treats for children to give your dog. Not only do kids love to give treats, but your dog is frequently reminded that kids are good news. Supervise carefully, of course, just as a parent would do. Show kids how to offer treats in the palm of their hand instead of between their fingers. Nervous children shouldn’t be pushed any more than nervous dogs.

Teach Kids How to Properly Pet Your Dog

Since not every child’s caretaker will have read my previous article, be ready to coach kids in how to pet your dog. No thwap-thwap-thwap on the top of the head, please, no matter how patient your dog is. And bear in mind that even the most child-loving dog can get tired and a bit grouchy. If several children have surrounded your dog, gently insist that they take turns in petting and treating, and excuse yourself while your dog is still relaxed and having a good time. If a child handles your dog roughly or has the bright idea of barking in his ear, bail out. The privilege of meeting friendly dogs comes with the responsibility of being nice to them!

Old Dogs and Kids

Finally, there may come a day when even the most kid-loving dog needs to retire from the petting zoo. If your dog’s sight and hearing have diminished, she may be more easily startled and scared than in her youth. Or a dog who used to bounce and wiggle if a kid ricocheted off him may respond differently when his old hips ache and creak. Be your aging dog’s advocate and limit the hellos to children with quiet demeanors.

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About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).